A recent archaeological find of the body of a man buried in Northern Italy 2,000 years ago shows signs he died after being nailed to a cross and crucified, much in the same manner as Jesus was crucified.

While death by crucifixion was a common form of capital punishment in the Roman empire for criminals and slaves, almost entirely what we know about the act comes from literary accounts. A new study published last April has taken the archaeological world by storm, as it claims to have found direct physical evidence of a crucifixion, only the second find of its kind ever.

The new study looked at the skeletal remains found about 25 miles southwest of Venice in the city of Gavello. The remains were found during a salvage excavation of an isolated tomb in preparation for the laying of a pipeline. When the team of researchers from the University of Ferrara and Florence ran genetic and biological tests on the remains, they discovered they belong to a man, aged 30 – 34 years old of feeble and slim stature.

The team discovered a fracture of the heel bone that suggests a metal nail had been driven through it shortly before death, although no evidence of a nail driven through the hands was found. However, it is possible the man’s hands were tied up using rope, another common method at the time.

“We found a particular lesion on the right calcaneus [heel bone] passing through the entire bone. In the specific case, despite the poorly preserved conditions, we could demonstrate the presence of signs on the skeleton that indicate a violence similar to crucifixion.” – co-author Emanuela Gualdi

The skeleton found in the tomb near Gavello, showing evidence of crucifixion.

The team’s announcement is particularly significant as it is just the second find of direct physical evidence of Roman crucifixion taking place.

“The importance of the discovery lies in the fact that it is the second case documented in the world. Although this brutal type of execution has been perfected and practiced for a long time by the Romans, the difficulties in preserving damaged bones and, subsequently, in interpreting traumas, hinder the recognition of crucifixion victims, making this testimony even more precious.” – co-author Ursula Thun Hohenstein

The team is cautious to call their findings definitive proof of a crucifixion, because of the degraded nature of the remains and because there is only one other confirmed example crucified remains to compare to. However, they believe it is more than likely their findings are legitimate.

“The position, section, and direction of the perforation are only partly consistent with the other case of crucifixion described previously. We observed a circular hole in the Gavello calcaneus unlike that from Giv’at HaMivtar in which a nail with a square section was used. Although the latter type of nail was more frequent in Roman times, nails with a circular section were also used, as reported in the literature.”

The only other physical evidence of Roman crucifixions was found in 1968, in the Giv’at ha-Mivta, an area of Jerusalem. Remains of a person called Jehohanan Ben Khagqol were discovered in an ossuary, and they included a heel bone with a nail driven through it from the side. (pictured above) The tip of the nail was bent, perhaps because of striking a knot in the upright beam, which prevented it from being extracted from the foot.

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